You must have heard stories about diving in Manado, Indonesia, and if so, you will certainly have been inspired to dive there after seeing pictures of its exotic inhabitants and beautiful coral covered walls. Yes – it’s a beautiful place. However, I recently had the opportunity to discover some of Sulawesi’s secret spots, dive sites that are off the beaten track. These are plentiful, and a lot of fun to explore. The local dive community keeps many of them closely guarded secrets, only whispering about these spots to a lucky few. Others take years to locate and some well-known dive sites are seriously underrated. All in all, it can be said with confidence that there are new wonders and untold stories to be discovered in Sulawesi.
My journey started with a seven-hour car ride from Sam Ratulangi Airport in Manado to a place called Bolsel in the South Bolaang Mongondow regency of North Sulawesi. The coast is lined with winding roads, snaking through the cliffs and greenery. The diving is as exciting as the journey there. During our dives, we were greeted with beautiful hard coral structures, huge, beautiful gorgonian fans and macro that rivals the Lembeh Strait. The outstanding clarity of the water is close to being gin clear and the fish life is abundant. Being on the coast, most of the diving is just 30 metres from the side of the road. We dived Sakau Point and Silver Tower – rumored to be visited by hammerheads and thresher sharks during the early morning. We have yet to see them, but we will be back on our next exploration.
From shiny Bolsel we drove four hours further up the coast to a paradise called Gorontalo. I did the same trip 12 years ago and being back brought back loads of memories. Located within the Golden Triangle, the province is in the northern tip of the island of Sulawesi on the Minahasa peninsula. Nestled in the calm waters of the northern shoreline of Tomini Bay, extraordinary walls drop away from the coast and into a place I can only describe as “liquid art”. For Gorontalo is the exclusive habitat of the the surreal “Salvador Dali” sponge, and is also home to the elusive teddy bear crab.
Once in the water, gigantic walls, soft corals, caves, inlets, overhangs and a huge diversity of marine inhabitants welcome you. An hour drifting on the wall is insufficient as there is simply so much to see. We were also very blessed to be able to witness the spawning of the mature Bennett’s tobies – a rare sight given that it’s an event that only takes place once or twice a year.
Another recent blessing for Botu Barani, in the Bone Bolango regency of Gorontalo Province, is the massive gathering of whale sharks that has been happening here for the last two years. A total of 12 whale sharks were reported and we were lucky to have swum with 11 of them in one dive. Locals were seen paddling out to see and interact with these gentle giants. The sharks are currently being protected and studied by WWF and the local authority. So, the diving in Gorontalo is for more than just the hard-core underwater photographer; it is also a fantastic family oriented destination – with accommodation ranging from four-star hotels to backpacker lodgings, and some the best local culinary delights with to entice those taste buds of yours.